Thursday, September 07, 2006

Miss Snark Soldiers On...

...and must feel like the picture at left.
She's at the 88th entry in her Third Herculean Crapometer.
Miss Snark provides the single most useful resource for writers on the net.
Anyone truly serious about submitting their work for publication should go over these entries in detail.
Stuff and comments to pore over for days on end to extract every last bit of useful intelligence - because her lottery selections very likely reflect the usual slush pile.
With due consideration to her personal likes and dislikes, her comments and criticisms largely reflect the exasperated moans of many other agents.

Some scattered observations:
A lot of middle grade and YA entries.
Not Harry Potter clones, but entries reflecting the interest surge in that genre as a result of the Potter success.
Haven't noticed one historical.
A few fantasy types - often with a political code.
A few urban paranormals.
Not many romances. Those that have appeared are more of the romantic suspense sub-genre with the usual woman-in-peril/serial killer/stalker theme and heroine w/ deep, dark secret. May be done to death.
Since Miss Snark does not agent some genres, perhaps those writers did not submit in any numbers, BTW.
A couple of the novel-as-therapy-my-story entries. Semi-autobiographical struggles w/ disfunctional family/dreadful mother/psychiactric grunge type.
A few Forrest Gump similitudes.
All really bring home the point agents make about something "fresh," with a hook or a twist that they haven't seen a thousand times.
Only a handful have excited Miss Snark's interest.
A few entries with an impossibility as a fundamental plot point: ie. castrating sea-gulls.
Another set the novel in Canada where - after a bloody civil war has destroyed the US - the main character deals with the politics of govermental funding.
That one was an absolute WTF for me.
Had a general impression of a lot of weak, victim characters - pursued, driven, obsessed - and a considerable number of negative, whiney, unattractive and basically nasty people as protagonists, whose mean and petty characteristics are emphasized and justified.

Think about that.


Scott said...

It's all a little intimidating to approach from that angle. I think I will just write what I write and see who salutes. Even an overdone genre can be fresh if done with the right amount of original thought.

Bernita said...

I'm sure most of these writers thought their MS was fresh and original, Scott.

EA Monroe said...

Nice image of Miss Snark, Bernita. That one's sure to keep you out of trouble. ;-) I wonder if some of the entry "subjects" on your list and the sheer number of writers these days are the results of everyone having a home PC (or Mac)? Everyone should be encouraged to write and be creative; but, no matter how talented, writing takes lots of hard work, study and discipline, too. I see the same thing in the graphic arts field everyday at work. Everyone does their own artwork. Only I have to "fix" it and "educate" -- no auto nos allowed. Miss Snark provides a great service, but then maybe she's a glutton for punishment! HA!

Jaye Wells said...

The Crapometer is entertaining and enlighteneing. I'd like to say some of the entries make me feel better about my own writing, but I'm sure all those people thought they were the shiznit, too.

Ric said...

Some great query letters - then first page is somewhere else...

Somewhere in the archives, Miss Snark said, "What? No dead body on the first page?"

It appears 2nd and 3rd novels can start slow, but to get the initial attention of agents and editors, the first ten pages must be non-stop, grab you by the throat, action. - done in a fresh way, without backstory or explanation.

A higher bar.

Bernita said...

The former picture was a take on how Miss Snark might view the crapometer submissions, EA.
If that's so, then it makes more professional writers look good by comparison.
Didn't think a lot of the entries were that bad, really.

And it can't be just "action", Ric, as in physical movement.

I'd say most of them probably did, Jaye. Some had voice but no plot. Some had plot but no voice, etc.
Think you're a couple "up" there.

Rick said...

I'm sure that it is a very representative sample of slush, except for being light on genres Miss Snark doesn't handle.

The most frightening thing I ever read about the slushpile was by Grumpy Old Bookman - that much of it isn't really that bad. In a way, reading the Crapometer puts me at ease ... because it isn't that good, either.

A few howlers, a few potential gems, a lot of stuff that's merely forgettable.

Which shines some light on the whole "freshness" thing. We hear agents and editors say that, and it's scary. But after reading the entries, I think Scott has hit the point. Freshness isn't telling a story never told; it's just bringing a bit of new awareness to familiar stories.

This also relates to something you observed, Bernita - so many protagonists are either passive victims, or so obnoxious you'd never want to spend a whole book in their heads. A tough, appealing protagonist has half the battle won.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Rick, VERY well expressed.
There seemed to be a certain mediocrity, did there not?

Jaye Wells said...

Bernita said, "Think you're a couple "up" there."

Thanks, Bernita. I just hope those who got negative feedback don't lose hope. But then again, I guess they shouldn't have submitted if they're that sensitive.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

LOL...The picture gave me the impression that she was saying "wtf!"

But in my mind before the picture loaded I thought is would be a running woman with her hair on fire! LOL!

I'm working on the elevator pitch for #4 and finding a fresh concept for a story is tough!

Rick said...

On the other hand ... for an interesting, critical perspective on the whole query/sample submission process, go to the comments on Crapometer #66 and scroll down to the comment by "yahzi":

There's too much gimmickry in the opening page. I don't believe it can be sustained; worse, I don't think it can be topped ...

Basically, agents read so much slush they want the whole story, every emotional high and action-packed sequence, in the first five pages. Then they ask for the partial, and they wonder why it doesn't work.

There's more, and in later replies some discussion of yahzi's argument.

I have to feel there's some point to this. Yahzi isn't blaming agents for Not Recognizing Genius, only saying that the whole process requires an over-adrenalated opening.

A funny thing is, when I'm pulling books off the shelf to check them out, I rarely turn to the beginning. I open to a random page, about a third of the way in (so I'm unlikely to hit a serious spoiler), and start reading.

I won't know who these people are or what they're doing, but it tells me whether I want to visit their world.

Bernita said...

I do get a kick out of your voice, Jaye.

Miss Snark is not unkind - just acerbic - and anyone who has read her blog should know what to expect.
So I can't dredge up any sympathy for anyone whose amour propre has been flattened a little.
We all need to learn it's a very, very big puddle when we croak - or we croak.

You're right, Bonnie - never thought of it in those terms - but it fits!

Yes, difficult, and to provide one that does not mis-lead the reader about the story, too.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Rick, for pointing out that comment.
One of the weaknesses/realities of the present system, excused by the perception of readers as incorrigible ADD-ers.

Myself, I never read the first page:I read the back blurb, the frontis excerpt and the last page - because I will not waste my time on a book that ends in tragedy.

S. W. Vaughn said...

I heart Miss Snark. :-)

Anyone whining about their work being trampled upon should be tarred and feathered at the behest of those of us who were not afforded the opportunity to get our work trampled upon like we wanted.

Bernita said...

Sonya, Miss Snark is not only a good egg, she is a superlative egg, and golden.

December Quinn said...

I do the same thing, Rick. I almost never read the first page. I read the blurb and a little from the middle.

Then, like you Bernita, I might read the end.

That's a good point about over-adrenalized openings. I tend to like a little time to get into a book before things go crazy, personally. :-)

And I agree with you and Sonya--Miss S is a golden egg, and the whiners should quit.

I was amazed by the amount of YA.

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, I do read first pages and they better grab me. But what works as hook for me is not the same that works as hook for Miss Snark.

Though if I get a backstory and worldbuilding essay, the book goes back on the shelf; there are better ways to sneak backstory and worldbuilding into your book. Beginnng with a dream is a sure killer as is an angsting character on the first pages. But some description connected to a POV doesn't put me off, or a dialogue beginning if the dialogue shows there's some conflict lurking. And if I really love the style, I can even forgive the mirror thing (Kushiel's Dart).

I also read the last pages of a book. Don't know why, maybe it's to make sure there's and end and not an endless disentangling of tangles.

Bernita said...

Was surprised a bit too by the amount of YA, December.

I agree, Gabriele, and certainly some of the stuff Miss Snark panned looked promising to me.

Rick said...

Bernita - certainly some of the stuff Miss Snark panned looked promising to me

Which just underlines the fact that it is all ultimately a matter of subjective taste.

What presumably makes Miss Snark a successful agent, beyond what may be called technical skills (handling contracts, hustling editors), is that her tastes are widely shared.

In not entirely unrelated news, I just did an amicable divorce from my agent. A published friend does know an editor interested in seeing my ms, but other than that, it's back to the query drill for me!

So the latest Crapometer was marvellously well timed!

Bernita said...

Sujectivity definitely plays a part, Rick, but since Miss Snark does not agent fantasy/SF or romance...

Rick said...

No, Miss Snark wouldn't be on my list, even if I knew her Secret Identity. (Kristin Nelson, on the other hand ...)

The beauty of the Crapometer, though, is that it rather transcends Miss Snark's personal tastes, or even her genre blind spots. I can almost always see why she liked a particular query/opener, even if it's not a book I'd ever open.

And the sheer volume! Reading or even skimming 100 examples really does give a sense of why some stuff stands out, while the rest fades into a blur.

Bernita said...

Especially since Ms. Nelson likes strong heroines.
Good luck with your search, Rick. Sorry you previous one didn't work out.
I agree, it's classic show, not tell.

Shesawriter said...

Well, I found one that I disagreed with Miss Snark about. I thought the writing was fresh and entertaining. She thought it needed another four or five revisions.

I know good writing when I see it.

But so does she.

So what's the moral?

This business is VERY subjective.

Ballpoint Wren said...

And the sheer volume! Reading or even skimming 100 examples really does give a sense of why some stuff stands out, while the rest fades into a blur.

I think this is the best lesson taken from the Crapometer... understanding how many voices are out there, clamoring for attention.